Instructions for 20 Page Research Paper (Literature Summary)

As part of your degree requirements you must hand in a 20-page research paper. This paper must review the basic insights of a research area, drawing extensively upon the work of other scholars, and providing it with a logic, or line of development. The aim, then, is to tie together different threads of work from other scholars into your own narrative.

You should not think of this paper as extra work. Instead, you should think of it as the beginning of your thesis. That is, it discusses the previous research on your chosen topic, and provides a reading of that research. That reading should end with a question: one that your own research is used to answer.

There are four steps to the process of writing this document:

1.) Identify relevant sources. You should select between 15-20 relevant academic articles or books. These must be academic. Blog posts rarely count. Neither do pieces in popular magazines or newspapers. Here is a basic rule: do they look like what you’re trying to do in your own paper? That is, do they present an argument drawing upon the scholarship of others? If not, they probably aren’t satisfactory for your purposes.

2.) Summarize these sources. What is the argument of each piece of writing? How does the author generate this argument? Did they do an experiment? A survey? A case study? Did they draw upon the data of others? Is this data satisfactory? What do you find interesting? What are some basic critiques? (I have attached a reading summary of an article for you to look at). These summaries don’t make up the paper itself, instead, they’re for you – to help you as you start writing up your paper. That write up starts with step 3.

3.) Develop connections between the sources. What are some common themes? How might you tie together these different insights into a bigger story? This is the place where you really come in. And this is where you can be creative – to make connections where others might not see any. Keep in mind that not all the pieces have to come together. Don’t totally force it. So you can have different sections to your papers (though I wouldn’t have more than 4) that deal with different themes. See my own literature summary (attached) for an example of this. As you develop your own narrative, draw upon the sources themselves. Tell reader what the sources argue, how that argument was developed, and what your own personal judgment is. Remember: it’s easy to be a critic. But it’s more helpful to be productive. Don’t tell the reader everything everyone else has done wrong (if you do this you’ll set a really high bar for yourself!). Instead, tell us what is useful for the reading, and how it helps us understand an important piece to a general puzzle. That puzzle is what you do in step 4.

4.) Use these connections to tell a story that takes us somewhere. And that somewhere is the basic question you want to address in your own thesis. So this paper should be useful for you (and it can make up 20 pages of your thesis!). The story you tell should have two basic components. First, what have the community of scholars working on questions related to your studied and argued? Second, how does this lead to an important question that you will take on in your own thesis? We should feel like we’ve gone on a helpful journey, learned things about others along the way, and are ready for your own research at the end of this.

Things to note:

  • When you draw upon sources, use the author’s own words. In short, quote!
  • You might think that 20 pages is very long. But if you discuss 15 sources at length, then each one gets about. of a page, and you spend the rest of the page showing how it fits with other pieces. Do that 20 times, provide an intro and conclusion, and viola!, you have 20 pages.
  • I have attached a file that is my own work, doing the task that you’re supposed to do. I draw upon a lot more research than you need to and don’t quote as much as you should. But it might give you a very rough model of what I’m expecting. Keep in mind that I do this for a living.
  • I have attached a reading summary for you as well. You do not need to do this for every reading if you don’t want. So step 2 is somewhat optional. All we require is the final 20-page document. However, I believe it will make your life a lot easier if you do this.



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